Entropy production in the spiritual world LO23361

Richard Karash (Richard@karash.com)
Tue, 23 Nov 1999 21:13:41 -0500

Replying to LO23319 --

I think we are schizo on this one. That is, there are polar extremes.

- Some things get believed that shouldn't be (Virus Alert! This one is
really serious! Don't open that email!! Save the world by sending this
message to thousands of your friends! Right away!)

- Other things are not believed that should be (There's a problem coming
if we keep using up non-renewable resources and keep dumping long-lasting
pollutants; smoking causes lung cancer; if we are skilled, we can reliably
make other people do things we want.)

How come we believe what we believe?

Michael Polanyi in his book _Personal Knowledge_ (Univ of Chicago
Press, 1958 and 1974) has some wonderful anecdotes.

For example:

- For hundreds of years, many people have believed in astrology
despite an absence of confirmation in any serious look at the data.

...and on the other hand

- For over 100 years, the respected medical/scientific establishment
completely discounted hypnotism as a fraud despite the studies and
demonstrations of Franz Mesmer. Mesmer even showed that he could teach
people to hypnotize. (Well before anesthesia Mesmer's hypnotism was to
perform painless surgery including amputations; it worked and could have
been a real boon to mankind but was pretty much ignored.)

These and other examples make me think that "everydots" ignore data and
are using some other source for knowing. In certain organizations, serious
research shows that the demand "Show me the data to prove it!" is only a
very thinly veiled attack. (See Chris Turner's new book _All Hat and No
Cattle_, 1999).

In his important essay, "The Fixation of Belief," Charles Sanders Peirce
argues that we tend to believe whatever appears to work for us, whatever
propels us towards our aims. This is scary unless we are pretty skilled in
examining whether it's working in the long term, or is just a short-term
illusion. (See http://www.peirce.org/writings/p107.html )

Chris Argyris argues that we have mental models, beliefs about how the
world works, that we use automatically and UNCONSCIOUSLY. That is, we
don't even notice that we have formed a belief and don't know we are
depending on the belief. Several modern philosophers talk about this as
transparency; we don't notice until a breakdown busts the transparency.
Even more scary.

How can we come to a more reliable basis for deciding what to believe and
what not to believe? This is part of being a learning organization... When
collectively we come to hold a more effective (more valid) set of beliefs.

The starting point is taking personal responsibility for our beliefs. I
snippped part of John's msg advocating that we look with and open but
sceptical stance, demand to see the data, give some things a try, and make
up our own minds. That sounds right to me, and it's a skill that must be

-=- Rick

>Count me proudly with the "everydots." Yes, Barry, there are
>"transcendent" experiences that change our ways of thinking about the
>world. But I, for one, don't believe that society's problem is
>unwillingness to recognize them. Quite the opposite. I believe society's
>problem is being too willing to recognize any outrageous, unsubstantiated


Richard Karash ("Rick") | <http://world.std.com/~rkarash> Speaker, Facilitator, Trainer | mailto:Richard@Karash.com "Towards learning organizations" | Host for Learning-Org Discussion (617)227-0106, fax (617)523-3839 | <http://www.learning-org.com>

[Host's Note: In assoc with Amazon.com, these links...

Personal Knowledge Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy by Michael Polanyi http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226672883/learningorg And, according to Amazon, it's available, in-print.

All Hat and No Cattle by Chris Turner http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0738200964/learningorg (Chris is a good friend, ex-Xerox. This is a great collection of war stories from the inside of a big organization.)


Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <rkarash@karash.com> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <http://www.learning-org.com>